Here is what is killing public education:
A culture of disrespect is rampant in our schools. This can be created by a variety of reasons. One is a lack of respect for a profession, which is roughly 80 percent female. Too many people incorrectly believing that anybody can be a teacher. The very structure of our public education system, as well as the state of our society, often means educators are the major authority figure in many children’s lives.
This necessitates that educators are on the frontlines of the culture wars. This result is an ugly fact. Teachers provide the only correction or discipline some children ever receive. This leads to a negative perception of teachers and public education in general.
The struggles that most educators face are daunting. Poverty is systemic in our nation and it is particularly obvious in our Southern states.
One high school principal told me, “My school has very high poverty and mobility rates. We can’t continue to blame failure on teachers and principals. Families are failing and the evidence of that damage is clear. We love our students and are dedicated to them. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is anymore. Eradicate poverty seems to be the obvious solution.”
We have become so driven by standards, testing and accountability that we have lost sight of what truly matters: children and those who educate our children. Testing has become big business; it is no longer merely a snapshot on a child’s progress. Data is the gold standard. We care more about what data tells us, than what a teacher tells us. And what do we know about the people creating the tests and interpreting the data? Data is not more important than children, or those that teach them. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics.” Perhaps we are not looking at the right statistics.
The argument often used to counter the power of educators is that public education needs to be run more like a business and be more efficient. These arguments often fail to consider the “inside influencers” of district policy, state policy, and federal rules, laws and controls which often end up essentially micro-managing our local schools.
If we do not want to kill public education, the teaching profession must be elevated in stature. Educators must be seen as community leaders both inside and outside of the classroom. Far too often the voices of classroom teachers are not included in the decisions that impact their livelihood or their students. Few occupations are given so little say in their chosen field.
Let’s not wait until the autopsy or until Bill O’Reilly writes another book to explain that educators must be given a more active role in determining the policies that concern their students and the teaching profession. It is imperative we accept and nurture the teacher-leaders we already have and look to them for the guidance we need to improve education.
J.C. Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a nonpartisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.